EDINBURG — The crowd looked tense. Some wincing. Many with visible expressions of shock as cellphone video taken by students from inside the classrooms of Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida captured the moments when a shooter opened fire through a classroom door.
Video of the 2018 shooting was played Monday for the roughly 70 people in attendance at the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office active shooter and critical incident training for citizens.
Held at the HCSO Training Academy in Edinburg, the training comes after the shooting massacre at a Walmart in El Paso on Aug. 3, when a white supremacist targeted Hispanics, killing 22 and injuring 25. Less than 24 hours later, another shooting took place at a popular spot in Dayton, Ohio, in which a gunman killed nine people and left 27 injured in a matter of 32 seconds.
Just days following these mass shootings, threats were reported in the Rio Grande Valley. A 13-year-old male was arrested by Weslaco police Thursday, accused of posting a threat on social media aimed at the local Walmart. And 21-year-old Jose Luis Gonzales Jr. was arrested Saturday by the Harlingen Police Department in connection to a case regarding a similar threat directed at the Walmart in Harlingen.
“That’s the reason why I came out,” Edinburg resident Cynthia Sepulveda said at Monday’s training when asked why she attended, referring to the recent shootings and threats. “If I were ever involved in an incident like this, I would want to know what to do.”
Tony Espinosa of Edinburg, who also attended Monday’s training, shared similar sentiments.
“It’s primarily awareness,” Espinosa said. “I mean, with what’s happened in the recent just couple of weekends, I think it’s vital for us to know not only what Hidalgo County has for us, but … (how) us as the public … (should) respond.”
The trainings were led by HCSO Sr. Deputy Rick Garcia, lead instructor, who has 15 years of experience with the sheriff’s office.
“We do a lot of active shooter trainings,” Garcia said, crediting Sheriff Eddie Guerra for their implementation. “For the last about five years we have been doing active shooter trainings for civilians. I think, in light of the recent events, everybody’s kind of reached out to us to kind of amp it up, and our sheriff is 100% about that.”
While the sheriff’s office usually receives calls to host these training sessions at several education and healthcare institutions, Garcia said that Monday’s event was the first hosted at the academy. Residents who attended learned the three elements of active shooter training — run, fight, hide, according to Garcia.
“…When we find ourselves in a time of crisis … we don’t have a plan sometimes,“ Garcia said. “So in that split second — that moment of panic, that moment of crisis — we have nothing to draw back on. What we want to do is we want to have an honest conversation about these things that have been happening.
“We want to throw out some options and some tools so that if someone finds themselves in a crisis, they can kind of just remember what we talked about tonight and say: ‘OK, these are my options; this is what I can do.’”
The program was established five years ago as a way for the sheriff to educate the community about critical situations.
“If we get full houses, and the community still wants more, we will continue to host these events,” Garcia said. “The sheriff’s priority is getting this info to our communities so that we can be better prepared.”
The sheriff’s office will be hosting another training from 9 to 11 a.m. Saturday at the HCSO Training Academy in Edinburg. The event is free to the public.